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If you are using the Canon 5D MKII or Nikon D90 for their gorgeous HD video, or even thinking about it, you need to read this. Creative COW Contributing Editor Jim Harvey shows how the Redrock Micro DSLR Bundle makes these cameras even more useful for video shooters, then shows how he and other pros are using it, in the field and in the studio. Jim is enthusiastic about the possiblities it opens up, and thinks you will be too.
The RedRock Micro DSLR Cinema Bundle ver. 1.0 introduces a new paradigm in image acquisition.
Shown here with optional blue focus gears. (photo courtesy of Redrock Micro)
"Oh the times they are a changin'" goes the old song, and never was that more true than today. The world has turned upside down with the advent of video cameras that take stills and more incredibly from a quality standpoint, still cameras that take video. Little point and shoots have had the capability to shoot video clips for some time, the image quality varying from absolute junk to fairly good, but only very recently has a high end DSLR been given the capability to shoot not just video, but HD video.
Nikon's D90 broke the barrier with their 720p function, but it was Canon who knocked it out of the park with a true Full 1080p HD in their ground breaking 5DMK II.
Canon's 5D MK II is changing the way people look at HD acquisition.
At 21.1 megapixels, the 5DMK II has the highest resolution of any standard DSLR on the market today. Yes, there are higher pixel counts available, but they are specialty digital backs that are out of reach of mere mortals such as us. The 5DMK II, at under $3000.00 (body only) is not only affordable, but an incredible performer in its own right.
The video capability of this camera is nothing short of spectacular. While there are some small points that need to be addressed, on the whole, the camera delivers performance that was unattainable without spending 6 figures just one year ago.
Ergonomically, a DSLR isn't the best choice for shooting video. Awkward positioning of controls and the inability to zoom smoothly, as well as some focusing issues might make you take a pass on first inspection. But as with any new technology, there is that rough initial learning curve that we all have to get over. Fortunately, there are companies and individuals that stay up late at night thinking about those rough spots and then putting the gears in motion to come up with solutions to them.
REDROCK MICRO is one such company. Located in Dallas Texas, Redrock Micro has been around for 5 years now working continually to develop affordable solutions to people who don't have Hollywood sized budgets. Their express purpose of bringing cinema quality accessories to the market has been very successful due in no small part to the company's dedication to high manufacturing standards and innovative design. Their original product, the M2 Cinema Lens adapter allowed DV and HDV cameras to use 35mm Cinema lenses to dramatically improve the quality of recorded images.
[Ed. note: depth of field adapters from Redrock Micro and others were covered "in depth" in this article from the Cow library, by Todd Terry.)
Continued work on the M2 brought the logical evolution of the microFollowFocus, microLensSupport and other high quality, low cost cinema accessories. In an unprecedented move, Redrock Micro also released the Redrock Micro DIY Guides that provides an even more inexpensive alternative to those filmmakers who had the desire to learn more about camera lenses, videography and the art of cinematography. To give the filmmaker / videographer access to tools that were formerly the domain of high budgets and specialized equipment houses is a breakthrough that democratizes the entire process of image acquisition. This idea has been one of the main tenets of Redrock Micro.
All this is dandy, but what we're going to look at today is Redrock Micro's entry into the DSLR arena and their vision of DSLR Filmmaking the Redrock Micro way.
Here is the important question; how do you take a still camera and make it a viable cinematic engine that can be used in a professional environment? As discussed before, shooting video with a DSLR isn't the most fun you can have with a camera from an ergonomic standpoint. Yes, the image is outstanding, but with such awkward handing, it becomes a logistical challenge to get that great footage that you see in your head. What to do? Well Redrock decided that to make the camera more usable, it needed a more stable platform to shoot from so they set out to build just that. The result is the REDROCK MICRO DSLR Cinema Bundle (ver.1.0).
This revolutionary system is completely modular and can be acquired in one fell swoop or put together piece by piece. But at under $3000.00 for the whole show, it's something that you might want to skip some lunch dates at the Burger Drive through to get the complete package all at once (and at the prices a "Fast Food" meal cost nowadays' you'll be paying off this unit in no time).
The basic package consists of the following;
- 15mm support system
- Follow focus with 35mm lens gearing for accurate and repeatable focusing
- Swing-away Matte box for light management and easy access to changing lenses and filters.
- Shoulder mount and handgrips for steady handheld use*
- Support cage for enhanced stability and low angle shot
*Comes with the DSLR Field Cinema Bundle
When you open the box you find everything that you need to put this rig together. If you're at all like me, you will dive into each box with the requisite "Oooh's and Aahhh's" and then, assuming that you have a handle on the assembly, you will proceed to completely befuddle yourself and wonder what they might have been thinking when they sent this to you. Before you call customer service, do yourself one huge favor and check out Redrock's assembly tutorial.
In the six minutes that you will spend watching the video (and following along) you'll have your DSLR rig assembled and ready to work. If you DON'T watch it, you may end up like a guy I heard about (who will remain nameless) who sat in to middle of his studio scratching his head for a couple of hours. Trust me, it's a very straightforward procedure to assemble, but there are some points that need to be clarified. Watching the video does just that.
So with our box sitting in front of us we open it up to find the following parts;
- microSupport baseplate with 1 pair of 12" 15mm stainless steel rods (lightweight configuration 60mm center to center)
- shim kit (for vertical camera adjustments)
- microMatteBox (Deluxe Bundle including eyebrow and adjustable side wings)
- 1 pair of 12" Stainless steel rods that extend the microMatteBox arm support
- microFollowFocus Unit
- 4 microLensGears for gearing 35mm still lenses (sizes A B C and D)
- microHandle top handle for carrying, and low mode shooting
- microSupport Cage, including 3x 15mm arms, 1 pr 12" 15mm stainless steel side rods, and 1 pr 9" 15mm stainless steel top rods
- access to video setup tutorials
I also added the Shoulder Support Kit* ($350.00) to round out the setup.
*Shoulder Support Kit is included in the DSLR Field Cinema Bundle kit.
(Note that there is now a Redrock Micro DSLR 2.0 Hybrid system. It is not intended to replace version 1.0. Instead, it offers a lower-price system, with a different approach. The DSLR 2.0 Hybrid brings much greater portability and lightweight to the rig. Using a special baseplate and industry standard 15mm rails, the DSLR 2.0 Hybrid eliminates the large cage and matte box. Incorporating a fully customizable selection of accessories, you can instantly tailor the rig to your personal shooting style while still maintaining a more discreet shooting style. The setup allows for more precise camera control without the need for a large rig. A Micro Follow focus can also be incorporated into the setup. Accordingly, the cost of this setup is much less than the full size DSLR Cinema bundle.)
Let's take a look at each component of the system.
The microSupport Baseplate
The RedRock microSupport Baseplate is the foundation of the entire system and rock solid (Redrock Solid?)
Just as they say a house is only as strong as its foundation, so it goes for the stability of any camera support. The microSupport Baseplate is the foundation of the RedRock system and as such is built like a tank. RedRock didn't cut any corners when they produced this component, and the adjustability of the mount itself shows a clear forethought in its design. You can adjust the height of the camera itself via the use of shims that will precisely position the camera on the mount. I found that their recommendations of two thick and two thin worked perfectly for me. The camera mounting plate also allows fore and aft movement to accommodate different lenses.
Standard camera plates attach the camera to the baseplate. Longer lenses can utilize extended length plates for precise adjustment.
The microMatteBox in concert with the Redrock Micro DSLR Cinema Rig transforms the Canon 5D into a formidable tool for high end video production.
If ever a part was mis-named, it would have to be the "microMatteBox". This unit is full size in every way, from the huge French flag, full size side wings and filter holders, the microMatteBox could have an article all its own. When you open the box and confront this magnificent piece of engineering, you will be hard pressed to say anything other than "WOW!" I've worked with almost every manufactured matte box you could think of and I am not exaggerating when I say that this one is my all time new favorite.
Just a quick listing of the features will have you wanting to get your hands on this. First off, the construction is to put it mildly, Robust. This was built to work out in the field.
While not overly heavy, it is substantial and the feature set is impressive. Two rotating filter stages that accept either 4" x 4" or 4" x 5.65" gel or glass filters. An assortment of lens adapters (cleverly made from a neoprene wetsuit type material that won't scratch expensive lenses and will still be light tight). Real metal side curtains that adjust with a small thumbscrew and a French flag that is large enough to insure that any stray light stays out of the places it doesn't belong. Coupled with more than enough size to accept any lens you might care to mount. Some longer lenses such as telephotos over 300mm will probably require you to use an adapter to adjust for length. I had no problems attaching a Canon 300mm F/4L to the rig and still have enough room for a grad in the filter holder.
I particularly like the swing away function that makes lens changes so much easier. Rather than having to break down the setup for a lens change, the Matte Box has a small knob that you pull up and the entire Matte Box assembly swings to the side out of the way. You don't have to disrupt shooting and you can change lenses without having to remove the camera from its mount. The neoprene lens gaskets are supplied in an assortment of sizes to fit virtually any lens you might want to mount. If you have an "oddball" you can simply use a pair of scissors and modify an existing gasket to suit your needs.
Two rotating filter stages accommodate either 4 x 4 or 4 x 5.65 filters. Masks are included for 4 x 4 use as well.
The Matte Box seals the lens with an innovative neoprene gasket that can be easily modified with a pair of scissors. this eliminates any possiblitiy of scratching your lens.
Swing away Matte Box is actuated by a small knob on the frame (upper left in photo)
Out of the box, the Redrock Micro can accommodate lenses up to 300mm (prime) without the need for special adapters. (Shown here with an EF300mmf/4L IS USM)
The Redrock microFollowFocus is a precision gear driven unit that allows precise focusing with any installed lens. The microLensGears come in various sizes to fit different diameter lenses.
The Redrock microFollowFocus is another incredible piece of engineering and smooth as silk in operation. The adjustability both fore and aft as well as laterally to accommodate different microLensGears makes installation a snap.
Additionally, coupled with the ability of the microMatteBox to swing away, lens changes are quick and painless. A generous marking wheel is installed so that grease pencil marks can be clearly seen by the focus puller. Whips and Cranks of various sizes are also available to make pulling focus as smooth as possible.
The operation of the unit leaves little if anything to be desired as far as functionality and accuracy / repeatability. The gearbox of the focus unit is sealed and backlash free, insuring that you will hit your mark every time. The unique clamping mechanism allows for rapid adjustment and secure attachment as well as rapid removal should the need arise.
The microFollowFocus has a unique clamping mechanism that also allows rapid adjustment laterally and fore and aft. Gearbox is sealed and backlash free for precise and confident repeatability.
The microSupportCage cage ties all the pieces together into a coherent package. Additionally, it adds protection to the camera and lens.
This piece ties all the other components together and creates the rigid assembly that both protects and gives stability to the camera. Using 15mm stainless steel rods coupled to aluminum frame components assures you of a rock solid mount that isn't going to flex or move around when in use.
Although I didn't try it and wouldn't recommend it, it looks as if you could park your car on this thing. Careful and thoughtful planning and engineering has made the microSupportCage not only strong, but lightweight as well. This is a real bonus when you are shooting from the shoulder or want a low angle handheld. By combining or removing elements from the cage, you can customize your rig to reflect your style of shooting. Attachments can be made to add accessories to the rig and any standard accessory that utilizes 15mm rods can be incorporated into the system.
The RedRock microShoulderMount adds versatility and comfort to run and gun situations. Additional platform at rear allows accessories to be easily mounted.
Adding to the versatility of this package is the microShoulderMount. This additional rod setup allows you to configure the camera and accessories as a shoulder mounted rig that lends itself to documentary and run and gun situations. It is marvelously balanced which is evident when you pick the unit up from the carry handle and then position it on your shoulder. Magically, the whole system seems to lose 10lbs.
Adjustable handles allow the operator to position them in the most comfortable way. In this mode, the camera literally seems to glide as you "steer" it with the handles. There is an extra platform included that you can use to mount additional accessories such as audio or an Israeli arm for attaching a small monitor or shotgun mic.
Components of the shoulder mount system. The Base of the shoulder mount pad is designed to be compatible with Arca-Swiss style mount as well as conventional 1/4-20 screw mounts.
Once assembled and installed, it becomes a part of the entire system. The design part of the kit blends seamlessly with the functionality and becomes a perfect fit. Nothing looks out of place here. Nothing looks like an "add on" or an afterthought. Redrock Micro makes it all look simple, but the thought and styling that went along with the engineering is very impressive.
The REDROCK MICRO DSLR Bundle (ver. 1.0) may not be perfect, although to be honest, the only thing I found in the whole package to nit-pick was the size of the thumbscrews on the matte box. Should you be blessed with Human sized fingers rather than fingers more akin to the size of a standard pepperoni, you probably won't be bothered at all.
Other than that, I really could not find anything to complain about. The design and execution of this system is such that with very little effort, you can place your work on an entirely new level that heretofore was effectively unobtainable by the vast majority of shooters.
I attribute this to the company's track record of innovative design and listening to feedback from its users. The DSLR Cinema Bundle creates such an enjoyable experience when using the Canon 5D MK II that any small points can be easily overlooked. I did some experimentation with the parts that were available in the kit and found that simply by being a little bit creative, one could actually tailor some different configurations that might be more usable in certain situations.
Simply by taking components from the DSLR Bundle, you can create your own personalized rig that allows you more flexibility. Shown here with a Rode Video Mic and a remote shutter release (for use with still photos). A follow focus could be added for additional control.
As with most things, sometimes less is more. Having the ability to "mix and match" components can yield several different configurations that can be adapted to different situations. Redrock Micro has begurn offering a la carte packages where you can pick and choose the pieces that you need, and construct your own rig, tailored just for your way of working. This will enable even MORE people to take advantage of being able to work with the camera on a stable platform in order to achieve the highest quality images possible.
Taking it all in and looking at what Redrock has produced, we can offer up the following opinion and conclusions:
- Takes an ergonomically limited piece of equipment and makes it suitable for high quality cinematic work.
- Is affordable in comparison to alternative equipment performing the same tasks.
- Is configurable for different lenses and setups.
- Audio remains clean with handling noise virtually eliminated.
- Uses industry standard 15mm rods for maximum compatibility.
- Can be customized for specific tasks.
- Components can be purchased as needed.
- Breaks down into a compact package that is easily transported to the job.
- Offers enhanced protection to the camera itself.
- Requires a tripod for the best stability.
- Thumb screws on Matte Box could be slightly larger for better grip.
- Shoulder mount module may need additional imaging devices (monitor) to get best performance.
Based on what I have seen Redrock Micro do in the past, and how they listen to customer input, I think that this is just the beginning in terms of cinematic equipment becoming more accessible to a larger number of filmmakers, students, advertising agencies and freelancers. The fact that they call it "ver. 1.0" indicates to me that there is a lot of development still going on down there in the Lone Star State.
But more importantly, if you are looking to create incredible images RIGHT NOW, you can do so simply and easily by putting together the Canon 5DMK II and the Redrock DSLR Cinema Bundle or DSLR Field Cinema Bundle. With a good quality L series piece of glass up front, the total cost to you will be well under $7,000 -- and that's with a very good tripod thrown into the mix. For what you get in quality, control and usability, that's a steal.
Here is the answer to that lingering question "How do I get the 'film look'?" that surfaces in almost every conversation about video. No gimmicks, no plug-ins, no dickering with the footage in post. Put this system together, shoot it like film and watch the people fall out of their chairs. In the hands of a beginner, this system can elevate the quality of a project by leaps and bounds. In the hands of an experienced shooter, the sky's the limit.